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NASA hopes for Wednesday Pegasus launch

Monday mission scrubbed due to issue with pump

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA hopes to try again Wednesday morning to launch eight hurricane-monitoring satellites on a rocket dropped high over the Atlantic Ocean.

A technical problem with the system that releases Orbital ATK's Pegasus XL rocket from its carrier aircraft scrubbed Monday's first attempt to launch the $157 million Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System mission, or CYGNSS, which will study the intensification of hurricanes, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Orbital ATK planned to replace a component in the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft's hydraulic system that was being flown in from California.

"Obviously, you’d love to go on the first attempt," said Tim Dunn, the NASA launch director. "And while disappointing that we don’t go today, it’s part of our business. We’re used to it."

The air-launched Pegasus is flying for the first time since 2013, and the first time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since 2003.

Fog delayed its departure from the base's Skid Strip by about a half-hour Monday, but the rocket took off under the belly of the L-1011 at 7:37 a.m.

As the aircraft neared its drop zone more than 100 miles east of Daytona Beach, at an altitude of nearly 40,000 feet, engineers reported a problem with a pump in the system that releases latches holding the 50,000-pound, 57-foot Pegasus in place.

The first drop opportunity at 8:40 a.m. was skipped, and the plane flew in a racetrack pattern for a second and final opportunity at 9:05 a.m.

"We did a lot of valiant troubleshooting in the air," said Dunn. "We did circle around the racetrack once, resetting breakers onboard the aircraft, doing what we could in flight to try to get that system back and functional again."

Weather also proved tricky. Thunderstorms and thick clouds forced the L-1011 to adjust its flight path several times to steer away from trouble that would have violated launch rules.

The ability to maneuver around weather is an advantage offered by rockets launched at altitude, but on Monday the pump problem was too much to overcome.

"It’s a beautiful launch system to allow you that type of flexibility," said Dunn. "However, just like any other launch vehicle system that we use, you do have hardware issues that crop up."

Both the hardware fix and ensuring that crews had enough rest were factors involved in scheduling the next launch attempt.

A launch on Wednesday would happen during an hour-long window opening at 8:20 a.m., with a launch target of 8:25 a.m.

The weather is expected to be better, with a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions.

Led by scientists from the University of Michigan, the CYGNSS mission aims to launch eight microsatellites that each weigh about 60 pounds and, with solar wings deployed, are described as about the size of a swan.

For at least two years, the satellites will fly in a band round the globe 315 miles over the tropics. By picking up signals from Global Positioning System satellites that reflect off the ocean surface, the constellation will calculate wind speeds at the center of storms.

Current satellites and aircraft can't take those measurements as often, and their signals may not be able to penetrate heavy rains.